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After a four-hour commute, I am home.

June 22, 2009, 11:55 PM

Today was one of those days where I was glad to be home again after work. Metro had its deadliest accident in its history today, with six confirmed dead as of this writing, as two inbound Red Line trains collided between Takoma and Fort Totten stations:

June 22, 2009 Metro collision
Photo: Carole Watson (WRC)

According to news reports, around 5:00 PM, the train in the lead was stopped (a not-unheard-of occurrence), and the train behind it crashed into it, causing the lead car of the moving train to telescope, killing the female train operator, among others.

Meanwhile, the Red Line was completely disrupted for the evening commute, and if I had known this going in, I would have avoided Metro entirely and taken the S9 to Silver Spring and caught a Y bus from there. I was still at work when the accident happened, so fortunately, I was never in any physical danger. I entered Metro at Dupont Circle, and quickly caught a Red Line train signed for Silver Spring. As we went through the main transfer stations, we were informed that the train would be going out of service at Rhode Island Avenue, with shuttle bus service being provided from there to Silver Spring. The PIDS screens were indicating a “police situation” at Fort Totten, and Metro’s e-alerts were indicating mechanical problems at Fort Totten. However, the line being closed for that much distance was highly unusual, because normally when stations are closed due to police situations, trains either pass through without stopping or they single-track, depending on the nature of the incident. But all in all, three stations were closed.

At Rhode Island Avenue, we were offloaded as promised, and so everyone headed to the exit to catch the shuttle bus. Already I knew I wasn’t going to get my 51 bus from Glenmont this evening. Here, as I was heading towards the escalator, my father called to see if I was all right and let me know what was going on. Turned out that Metro had an accident. Now all of a sudden it all made sense, as Dad relayed what the news was saying.

Reaching the bus loop, I was amazed to see the large mass of people at Rhode Island Avenue, as Metro attempted to service the crowd with shuttle buses, along with the regular bus service. Take a look:

Metro did a somewhat poor job in managing this crowd, and in communicating with the crowd, and as such, it did not lead itself to orderliness. No one knew what buses were going to be shuttles. No one knew exactly where the shuttle buses were going to load. Shuttle buses were loading kind of willy-nilly all over the place. And the supervisors on scene made no effort to communicate with the crowd, only speaking to the bus drivers. A lot of the confusion and annoyance could have been prevented had these people just spoken to the passengers. But no, and as a result, I missed seven or eight shuttle buses because no one communicated where anything was going to board, putting me in the wrong place.

Eventually, an H8 bus was turned into a shuttle, and I somehow managed to get on that bus, pushing on there along with all the other cranky commuters… who were also pushing their way onto the bus. The rear doors also opened, and people were boarding that way as well, until a Metro employee physically prevented people from continuing. In the case of a revenue run, I can understand barring people from using the rear door, because they can’t pay their fare. But for a non-revenue shuttle, who cares? It allows for faster boarding.

Perhaps the hero of the evening as far as I was concerned presented himself here: the bus driver. This gentleman made sure to tell everyone exactly what was going on. He was instructed to take his bus to Fort Totten, where we could then transfer to another bus to continue to Silver Spring. A number of us, myself included, thanked this gentleman for his providing this information, since this was the first information of any kind we’d received at all.

So we were off, roughly following the route of the Red Line. As we approached Brookland-CUA, the bus driver asked if anyone needed off at Brookland. A resounding “NO!” came from the crowd, and so we passed through without stopping. At Fort Totten, the driver got instructions to continue to Takoma. Welcome news! On the way to Takoma, I pulled up a news report about the accident from WRC’s site. The article had a photo of the accident, and I passed the phone around for all to see. Then I read the article out loud in order to explain what happened.

And then a bit of good news: At Takoma, the bus driver was instructed to go to Silver Spring. The rationale was, “If you’ve gone this far, you might as well just go to Silver Spring.” When the bus driver announced this to the riders of his bus, cheers and applause erupted from end to end. Wonderful! We might just get home tonight!

Silver Spring was a bit of a zoo, as a bunch of riders unfamiliar with downtown Silver Spring’s bus traffic patterns were dumped into the temporary bus facilities there. Some headed to the station (the line was open from Silver Spring to Glenmont), and others headed for the buses. I caught a Y9 from there, and in taking my seat, a tremendous feeling of relief came over me – I was going to get home, and what felt like the longest commute in history was going to come to an end. And before you knew it, the bus dropped me off at my street. We’re home!

While I was in “Metro hell”, as I described it, I kept people posted on what was going on via Facebook from my cell phone. Turned out that a lot of people appreciated it, as I was greeted when I got home by a lot of I-was-worried-about-you messages and messages expressing relief that I was safe. Thanks, everyone – it’s very comforting to know that you all care about me.

Meanwhile, the line is going to continue to be seriously messed up well into tomorrow, as is the case with major accidents (my photos of the Woodley Park-Zoo accident in 2004 were next-day photos). So I’m driving in tomorrow, since doing the bustitution thing tomorrow morning is just a little bit more than I can stand.

Web site: "2009 Washington Metro accident" on Wikipedia

Song: AP video about the accident.

Quote: Meanwhile, what's kind of scary is that I was on this section of railroad just that morning, and it was uneventful as always. It's hard to suppress those it-could-have-been-my-train thoughts sometimes, but I'm fortunate that my commute ended at home, and not in a hospital emergency room or worse.

Categories: DC area local news, WMATA